Signs your teen's mental health is taking a hit from COVID pandemic restrictions | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Signs your teen's mental health is taking a hit from COVID pandemic restrictions

Emilie-mae Quesnel, 16, who lives in Kamloops, said group activities and outings with friends have been cancelled or restricted throughout the pandemic and the social isolation has increased her loneliness and anxiety.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/Emilie-mae Quesnel
September 03, 2021 - 6:00 AM

With the pandemic well into its fourth wave, some young people appear to be struggling with mental health issues after a year and a half of increased social isolation.

Emilie-mae Quesnel, 16, who lives in Kamloops, said group activities and outings with friends have been cancelled or restricted throughout the pandemic and the social isolation has increased her loneliness and anxiety.

“The pandemic has negatively impacted my mental health,” Quesnel said. “Youth group was cancelled so I’ve lost a lot of friends within that social group and there have been long durations of not seeing closer friends. It is hard to deal with not seeing other people face to face. Having such little peer interaction has been really hard because my friends are my relief people. They were my break from myself and my family.”

While the advent of the vaccination program should help to alleviate some of these stresses, she feels anxious when going into public spaces.

“I didn’t have social anxiety before the pandemic,” Quesnel said. “This is a new challenge I need to learn how to manage. My anxiety and depression have grown worse this past year. I have spent a lot of time alone and it has been really hard to cope. It feels I’m in an uncontrollable isolation.”

Her phone has been her biggest tool for staying connected with friends.

Michelle Onyango is a registered clinical counsellor at Sandstone Counselling Centre in Kamloops. She said the pandemic has impacted youth both socially and as it relates to their extracurricular activities and hobbies.

“Teenagers use socializing to learn about conflict resolution, leadership, networking and teamwork,” Onyango said. “These are integral to functioning in interpersonal relationships, school, teams and work. They also use many of these activities as a coping mechanism to combat stress and loneliness.

"Young people are like canaries in a coal mine. They alert us to issues impacting society and often signal problems earlier and more intensely. This happens because they have less life experience in negotiating difficult life events, fewer coping mechanisms, limited autonomy, and difficulty expressing their emotions and thoughts.”

Parents may notice their teens sleeping more, isolating and expressing increased irritability.

"Teens might not enjoy things they once did and may express more fear of trying new things," she said. "We’ve noticed an increase in depression, social anxiety and fearfulness going into public spaces."

There are several things a teenager can do to improve their mental health starting with creating a routine.

"Go to bed and get up at the same time each day, get fresh air, exercise three to four times per week for 30 minutes, spend time with a friend, avoid alcohol and recreational drugs, do something creative and find a trusted other you can speak to about how you’re feeling," Onyango said. "This is the perfect time to bring back family dinners, game nights, and movies."

The long-term impacts of social isolation for teenagers are an increased risk of depression and anxiety, a decline in academic performance, and reduced preparedness for the workforce and leadership positions, she said.


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